GOV SEC: Most Companies Are Unprepared for Emergencies

July 29, 2004
Although an OSHA standard requires a written emergency action plan for worksites of more than 10 employees, 80 percent of U.S. corporations have no such plan, according to Bo Mitchell, president of 911 Consulting.

"I think the failure of the private sector to prepare for emergencies, and the public sector belief that companies are prepared, is a train wreck," said Mitchell.

Speaking at a July 28 break-out session during the first day of this year's Government Security Expo and Conference held in Washington, DC., Mitchell said the 80 percent figure applies to the members of the American Management Association. The members of this association are mostly medium and large companies, he explained.

"Of the remaining 20 percent that do have a plan, it's my personal experience that the plan generally fails to comply with OSHA's emergency action plan standard (29 CFR 1910.38), and that standard is only a basic, minimum requirement," Mitchell contended. He said his experience is based on his work as a consultant with approximately 300 companies during the past three and a half years.

Because of their symbolic status or their connection to the economic infrastructure, corporations have been the targets of terrorist attacks. Yet according to Mitchell, the chances are far greater that a workplace emergency will result due to a fire, severe weather, blackout, toxic spill, bomb threat or workplace violence.

Having an effective emergency plan can pay big dividends in the event of a disaster. Mitchell said that after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, 42 percent of workers soon returned to work at companies that had an emergency plan, while only 6 percent returned to work at organizations without such a plan.

Mitchell advises corporations to:

  • Look up OSHA's emergency action plan rule as well as the separate fire prevention regulation on the agency's Web site and comply with them as required by law;
  • Accept responsibility for being part of the solution by training employees in emergency response and conduct drills;
  • Devote as much time, energy and money to protecting people as you do to protect data.

"When I ask CEOs of large companies how much money they spend protecting their data, they will quickly tell me and it is usually in the millions of dollars," said Mitchell. "When I ask them how much they spend protecting their workers there is usually a long, awkward silence."

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